Shia LaBeouf in Nymphomaniac: Indolently Sexy, Like a Lazy Panther

Shia LaBeouf in <i>Nymphomaniac</i>: Indolently Sexy, Like a Lazy Panther
LaBeouf in those news-making posters for Nymphomaniac: Volume 1

The big news out of the Berlin Film Festival earlier today was that Shia LaBeouf, here to promote Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Volume 1, behaved like an ass on the red carpet at the movie’s premiere last night. He showed up in a proper tuxedo, but also with a paper bag over his head scrawled with the words, “I am not famous anymore.” Earlier in the afternoon, when a journalist asked a fairly innocuous question, LaBeouf borrowed a random dial-a-quote from wiggy football star Eric Cantona—“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea”—and then stalked out of the room.

Von Trier, as always, wants to provoke and titillate.

Presumably, LaBeouf intends to make his mark with antics of this sort now that he’s gotten on the bad side of almost everyone after stealing material from graphic-novelist Daniel Clowes for his own short film. Maybe, too, he feels obligated to kick up a little dust here, since that perennial naughty imp Von Trier has declined to do any press. Whatever La Beouf’s motivation is, his behavior as a guest here—basically, rude and ungracious—is unfortunate for at least one reason: His performance in Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 isn’t half bad. In fact, it might be the first time he’s shown even a spark of personality at all.

And here, I have a confession to make: I saw a version of Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 in New York a week or so back. The version shown here in Berlin is a director’s cut, about 20 minutes longer, and so yesterday I had to choose between (a) spending some two and a half hours of precious festival time looking at more Lars Von Trier-approved genitalia (and there was plenty the first time) or (b) availing myself of a hard-to-come-by ticket to hear John Zorn performing a live keyboard accompaniment to a restored version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Berlin Philharmonic. Reader, forgive me: I said no to Von Trier’s extra penises and yes to the out-there downtown jazz guy. As I wavered between duty and pleasure, a colleague put it this way: “You work for the Village Voice! You can’t get more Village-y than John Zorn.”

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Joe in Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
Charlotte Gainsbourg is Joe in Nymphomaniac: Volume 1


Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

See also: Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Marzipan Monstrosity

The thorny reality—as opposed to the Zorny one—is that I was disappointed in the version of Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 that I saw back in New York, and I’m not convinced that any amount of extra footage can make it better. Charlotte Gainsbourg is Joe, the movie’s narrator and its restless soul. As it opens, Joe lies beaten and bloodied in a medieval-looking alleyway. A passerby, Stellan Skarsgård’s Seligman, finds her and brings her to his home, lending her a pair of cotton PJs and tucking her into bed. But Joe doesn’t want to rest. She wants to tell Seligman her life story and perhaps, in the process, shed some of the horrific guilt she carries with her. As she explains how she came to lie in a mangled heap on the street, she blurts out, “It’s my fault. I’m just a bad human being.” When Seligman replies, in his sonorous, gentle-giant voice, that he’s never met a bad human being, Joe shoots back, “You have now.”

Joe’s story begins with reasonably happy memories of her childhood, and of her doctor father (played by Christian Slater, with a measure of warmth and depth that he hasn’t shown before). Joe becomes aware of her sexuality at a precociously early age, and offers her virginity to a local dumb-bunny gearhead, LaBeouf’s Jerôme, who’s indolently sexy, like a lazy panther. He takes a few minutes off from fiddling around with his motorbike to do Joe the honor of taking her from both the front and behind. Deed done.

From that point on, Joe can’t get enough—there isn’t enough “enough” in the world to satisfy her—and she uses her sexual power, she explains, “without any concern for others.” As a young teenager, at that point played by a resolutely angular young actress named Stacy Martin, she and her mischievous best friend, B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), don jailbait clothes and board a train, going from car to car to see who can rack up the biggest number of sexual conquests. Von Trier doesn’t hold back. We see a penis here, a vulva there, although as he presents these odds and ends (in Volume 1, at least), they’re more a novelty than a shock. And much of Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 is quite funny, including an extended bit in which Uma Thurman plays a jilted wife who marches into battle against Joe, wearing her victimhood like Athena’s armor.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Jeff Rey
Jeff Rey

ofcourse he was! he and bieber are both Canadians! that country must feel ashamed having had both of them now theyre our problems :( why cant canada give us more like michael j fox?!

Jennifer Geiser
Jennifer Geiser

Im sorry but seeing him smoke a cig and know that hes frm disney i laugh

Jordyn Mitchell Beaudreau
Jordyn Mitchell Beaudreau

I'll never forget when Shia came to a formal at my high school (Foothill High) with Margo (Tawny, a co-star from 'Even Stevens'). "I just met Even Stevens!!", the girls were screaming and it was absolutely hilarious. He was such a dork - Gosh, the outfit and everything! I never cared much for him but I was truly hoping this would be the film to change my mind, it's a shame to see him be such an embarrassment to the industry and insanely talented cast and crew he was fortunate enough to work with on this. Perhaps he should stick to not being famous anymore! Either way, I know I still can't wait to see what Lars von Trier has done this time!


Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!